Trudeau following Harper's lead in denying justice to illegally imprisoned Muslim men

7 March 2017 - 11:54pm
March 8, 2017Trudeau following Harper's lead in denying justice to illegally imprisoned Muslim men If the Liberal government is serious about combating Islamophobia, they should award long-denied justice to those in Canada's Muslim communities whose freedoms were sacrificed for the "war on terror."

Democratic socialism can build an economy that works for everyone

7 March 2017 - 12:10am
March 7, 2017EconomyDemocratic socialism can build an economy that works for everyoneDemocratic socialist economist Kenneth Arrow passed away recently. His ideas could set the path for a popular alternative that doesn't include Donald Trump.

What was the problem with naming Islamophobia in Motion M103?

3 March 2017 - 8:58am
Anti-RacismEconomyPolitics in Canada

A short history of political correctness:

1. It began on the Marxist left. If you think you own the key to history -- what makes it work and where it's going based on "class analysis" -- it's only logical to grade your actions based on whether they're correct responses.

Figures such as Lenin and Mao talked about making a "correct analysis" of the forces: who's up, who's down, who's "the main enemy." From that you calculate a "correct line:" e.g., in 1939, do you attack Hitler or momentarily ally with him?

By the 1960s revival of the New Left, the notion had become playful. There was a strip called Correct Line Comix with a chubby cheery Mao. Leftists in restaurants would ponderously joke about ordering politically correct dishes. But the term itself -- referring to minorities or identities -- wasn't yet in wide use.

2. After the dazzling triumph of neo-conservative forces in the 1980s (Reagan-Thatcher-Mulroney), came a right-wing attack on a new catchphrase: political correctness. In my opinion this was part of an effort to bury the residue of the Marxist left, along with the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

At the same time it was an attempt to dismantle the left critique of capitalist society by draining it of its encompassing economic bite: splintering it into demographic fragments thus defusing the notion of popular "solidarity." Numerous cover stories demonized the evil force. But oddly, it was hard to find specific examples or advocates of PC, whatever it actually was. The real-life version of PC meanwhile -- a ban on critiquing sacred cows, such as capitalism or NATO -- stayed in force. In fact it still is. Even the elected president of the U.S. can't question NATO, long after its raison d'être has vanished. But I digress.

3. During the 1990s, in an amazing twist anticipated by the late Edward Said, many leftists, especially those lefter than pasty versions such as the NDP, more or less adopted the version of themselves painted by the right-wing critics of PCness.

They did this by adopting identity politics, focusing on minority rights, gender rights or human rights generally. (Said had written that Muslims, when smeared by overwhelming Western imagery portraying them all as terrorists, sometimes embraced that role in a desperate attempt to feel they existed at all.)

There was nothing wrong with these campaigns. They'd been underplayed for too long. Except that they were often accompanied by a de-emphasis, or abandonment, of economic issues, such as Who owns everything? and Who did they steal it from? There's no reason you can't include both.

But the intense stress on identity, combined with a burning focus on appropriate language, gave right-wing critics of PC far juicier targets than they'd originally had. The right, rather surprisingly, became the main advocates of free speech.

4. And so to Motion M103, the mild declaration (nothing more, no legal force at all) of concern for the rights and especially safety of Muslims in Canada. It's the PC controversy writ small.

Whose rights are of overriding concern here: the six Muslims murdered in Quebec City as they prayed (or the two Indian men in Kansas City shot down because their killer thought they were Iranians -- as if that might have justified it)? Or the free speech rights of critics of Islam, such as Ezra Levant and Conservative leadership candidates to pursue their detached scholarly critiques of Islamic theology and law?

The argument has focused mostly on language, especially the term, Islamophobia: if the bill said anti-Muslim instead, for instance, people would supposedly be less bothered.

I know words are supposed to matter but they don't much, in this case, because everyone knows what Islamophobia means. It's the same with anti-Semitism, a terribly imprecise term -- many Jews aren't by any stretch Semites, even if you manage to define it -- but everyone knows what it means.

In fact, Islamophobia is far more precise. Hatred of Muslims gets ginned up over their religion -- Islam. That's not been the case with hatred of Jews -- at least since the Middle Ages. In the modern era it's been based on racial, economic or global conspiracy myths. By comparison, the term, Islamophobia, reflects the issue exactly.

As Trump and others keep insisting, the "enemy" is Islam, with or without "radical." What's the matter, they taunt, are you afraid to say it? What would you call that if not Islamophobia?

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: JMacPherson/flickr

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political correctnessidentity politicshuman rightsMarxismthe leftislamophobiaMotion M103Rick SalutinMarch 3, 2017Human rights protections raise new questions for freedom of speechA commitment to free speech doesn't reconcile easily with human rights codes that may compel respect and courtesy toward specific groups -- including their right to be addressed as they choose.Putting Black faces on our money won't paper over systemic racismRepresentation in its basest sense has come to stand in place for actual change when no change is happening at all.Joseph Boyden and the identity trapThe Joseph Boyden imbroglio raises fundamental questions about identity.

Don't be fooled by the Sanctuary City trend. Migrants in Canada are still at risk

3 March 2017 - 8:19am
March 3, 2017Don't be fooled by the Sanctuary City trend. Migrants in Canada are still at riskThough a number of cities across Canada are adopting "Sanctuary City" declarations, deportations persist and basic public services are still not being provided.

A message to young activists in the fight against Donald Trump

2 March 2017 - 9:05am
Political ActionUS Politics

President Donald Trump's first address to Congress was hailed by many as "presidential," primarily because he didn't stray far from his prepared remarks on the teleprompter. Despite the pomp and ceremony of the joint session, Trump's delivery of his 5,000-word speech was replete with inaccuracies, mischaracterizations and fabrications. While touted as his opportunity to unify the country, he instead rattled off a string of divisive policy prescriptions that are red meat to his base, from building a "great, great wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border to increasing military spending by tens of billions of dollars. Among the guests in the chamber was a remarkable 26-year-old African-American woman, Ola Ojewumi, seated in the gallery in her wheelchair.

Ola is alive today, she says, because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Trump spoke about what he calls the "imploding Obamacare disaster," calling on Congress to "repeal and replace" the law that has led to an increase of over 20 million people obtaining health insurance. "It was quite scary when I heard his comments about the Affordable Care Act," Ola told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. "I personally was affected. I am the survivor of a heart and kidney transplant. And I was able to receive insurance and stay on my parents' insurance until I was 26." She had the transplants when she was 11 years old, and her parents' health-insurance company tried to boot her off the plan several times. As a result of the transplants, she must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life. Having recently beaten post-transplant lymphoma, she is a cancer survivor as well.

Despite all she has had to overcome personally, her main focus is helping others: "I get strength from my community and seeing the problems in the world. I knew I was meant to do social justice when, in recent months, I've watched the news and literally been brought to tears about the way America is headed and about the regression." In college, Ola founded Project ASCEND with a $500 tuition-refund check. The group's mission is "to create higher education opportunities for marginalized and disadvantaged young people across the globe."

Many of the Democratic congresswomen wore white to the Trump speech, echoing the dress style of the American suffragettes of a century ago. "I had on my white jacket and a red dress. I was proud to see women standing up for what's right. It's really remarkable how much power we have as women in understanding that our voices will be heard, even if we aren't the majority," she said. "I'm proud of women on the Hill championing our rights and championing Planned Parenthood. They provide a voice for voiceless populations, including women of colour and women with disabilities."

Ola has volunteered with Planned Parenthood, handing out condoms in the annual gay-pride parade in Washington, D.C. "Planned Parenthood's work in passing the ACA and the ACA having a free birth-control option allowed for women with disabilities, like me, to receive free birth control," she explained. "We aren't included in the discussion. Women with disabilities, we have the highest rates of sexual assault, and we are more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than able-bodied women. So, Planned Parenthood Metro Washington gave women like me a voice and taught me how to really protest and advocate on behalf of my group."

Ola also is critical of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who said during her confirmation hearings that implementation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act should be left to the states, opening the potential that states could discriminate against students with disabilities. Ola said DeVos shows "a lack of understanding about equal access to education."

Ola Ojewumi has been through a lot, but clearly has much to more to do.

"My message to young activists is: Continue to advocate. Draw inspiration from what you see. Don't change the channel. Don't ignore what's going on in the world. Watch what makes you angry, so it can keep you fired up and keep you in the trenches fighting, because change does not just get done on the Hill. It gets done with your voices and your advocacy. Continue to speak out about anti-Semitism, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia. And be sure to be inclusive in your movements ... people with disabilities, people in wheelchairs, our rights matter. Make sure your movements are inclusive of everyone, from every background. We can really change the world together."

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr

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trump administrationObamacareU.S. Health CareU.S. politicsStop Trumpsocial changeAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanMarch 2, 2017Defeats of Andrew Puzder and Michael Flynn reveal power of grassroots movementsThe engine driving both the ouster of Andrew Puzder and Michael Flynn are movements of thousands upon thousands of people across the U.S., saying "no" to hate, bigotry and injustice.Silenced twice by U.S. Senate, Coretta Scott King's words live onSen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was interrupted while reading the words of Coretta Scott King on the U.S. Senate floor this week. What you should worry about when you worry about President Trump (Hint: not where Ivanka sits!)If you want to worry about the Trump Family, think about the fact Mr. Donald now has the firing codes to 4,000 nuclear weapons.

NDP leadership candidate Peter Julian 'just a regular guy' with lots of ambitious policies

2 March 2017 - 8:23am
March 2, 2017NDP leadership candidate Peter Julian 'just a regular guy' with lots of ambitious policiesThe first-to-declare NDP leadership candidate tells rabble that the party lost touch with the grass roots last time. If he is chosen leader, Julian pledges that will not happen again.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse makes it official: He wants to lead Alberta Liberals

2 March 2017 - 1:16am
David J. ClimenhagaMarch 2, 2017ElectionsPolitics in Canada

Departing St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse's principal problem as a candidate to lead the Alberta Liberal Party -- and as the party's leader, in the event he gets the job -- will be to find a way to differentiate between the policy proposals of the governing NDP and those of his own party.

This won't be that easy. Dyed-in-the-wool political partisans are one thing, but what Liberal voters, NDP voters and the left-of-centre portion of mushy and moveable electoral middle all want right now is pretty much within the same general policy range.

Why would voters who essentially support the NDP policy approach -- even if they don't particularly love the NDP -- risk voting for a party like the Liberals, who are unlikely to offer anything except a cast-iron guarantee they can't form the next government?

Crouse needs to answer this question to succeed.

At the same time, Alberta's already pretty far-right conservative parties -- whether or not they manage to merge before the next general election -- are moving even further to the right, which is not likely to be comfortable territory for Alberta Liberals to occupy.

So Crouse, who announced he is running to lead the Liberals yesterday morning on the edge of the North Saskatchewan River Valley overlooking downtown Edmonton and Alberta’s lovely Legislative Building, has his work cut out. It won't be easy to persuade voters that the Liberals are viable as anything except a spoiler that can split the centre-left vote and guarantee a destructive market fundamentalist government led by Jason Kenney, Brian Jean or some other conservative contender.

To succeed, therefore, Crouse is going to have to find and articulate several polices different enough from Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats to woo voters who might otherwise vote NDP, and yet not so different that he doesn't appear to be just another conservative, as does Alberta Party Leader and sole MLA Greg Clark nowadays.

This, of course, is exactly the role Conservatives hope the Liberals will play -- but the question is, notwithstanding Crouse's undeniable political talents, will it play in Ponoka, let alone in any of the province's big cities?

At the moment, the Liberals only have one MLA -- former leader, current interim leader and likely soon-to-be-retired leader David Swann. It seems highly improbable Swann, popular in his own Calgary-Mountain View riding, will run again.

Crouse's announcement, by the way, wasn’t exactly a surprise. He's been dropping hints about this for weeks, even months, possibly even years. In mid-January, he published a statement on his personal website saying, "the opportunity to serve Albertans in a volunteer capacity such as the Liberal Party Leader is one opportunity that I am seriously considering." He added: "I will update Albertans in the near future." Well, now he has.

When he unexpectedly revealed two months ago he wouldn't be seeking a fourth term as mayor of the upscale bedroom suburb northwest of Edmonton, he said he would not be running for the Liberal leadership. But that was then and this is now, and a politician's allowed to change his mind. It's telling that at the time he was queried about this ambition by reporters.

As mayor of the city of 65,000, Crouse has been an enthusiastic retail politician, attending literally hundreds of community events over the past decade. Before being mayor, he served one term as city councillor. A former timber and energy industry executive, company owner and successful junior hockey coach with an MBA, Crouse has been chair of the Capital Regional Board since 2012.

St. Albert has grown and mostly prospered through his tenure as mayor, and continues to attract newcomers. The principal knock against Crouse by his often-bitter opponents has been the city's higher-than-average property taxes, a situation that does not rest solely in his hands, obviously. But he has also been criticized over the years for a range of local controversies that included being accused of voting on a matter from which he should have recused himself and suggestions he improperly submitted mileage claims to the Capital Region Board.

In the last municipal election campaign Crouse was subjected to a vicious campaign of anonymous trolling by persons unknown, which he overcame with relative ease.

Crouse says he will complete his term as mayor and, if he wins, volunteer full-time for the Liberals after the next municipal election in October.

So far, Crouse is the only candidate to announce his intention to seek the Liberal leadership. The party, obviously, needs a contest to generate some interest and bring in new members. Nominations close on March 31.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Alberta politicsAlberta Liberal PartyAlberta NDPWildrose PartyRachel NotleyBrian JeanJason KenneyNolan CrouseSt. AlbertGreg ClarkAlberta PartyDavid SwannCapital Regional Board2017 Municipal ElectionAB

EKOS poll: Canada should support Israeli sanctions, not demonize them

1 March 2017 - 3:37pm
GazaPolitics in CanadaWorld

Foreign policy is one of those areas of democratic governance that doesn't often get on the public's radar. But when it does it provides citizens with a kind of unsullied opportunity to apply their values. That is, unsullied by considerations of self-interest, we get to ask: what is the right thing to do?

Governments, of course, aren't quite as free to make such decisions given that they have so-called "national interests" to consider. But Canadians should be able to expect from their federal government that its foreign policy conforms closely to their values.

When it comes to Canada's policy towards Israel the Trudeau government, aping its predecessor, is several country miles from reflecting Canadian values. That is the irrefutable conclusion of an EKOS poll whose partial results were released February 16. A second batch of survey results released yesterday (all survey results can be found here) focussed on the issue of whether or not Canadians think it is appropriate to use sanctions and/or boycotts to pressure Israel to obey international law.

The results demolish conventional wisdom on this question. Respondents were asked -- in the context of the UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank: "[d]o you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?" Overall, 66 per cent expressing an opinion answered "yes." But that number is heavily skewed by Conservative supporters, 70 per cent of whom reject sanctions on Israel.  Openness to sanctions on Israel by supporters of other federal political parties ranged from 75 per cent for Liberals to 94 per cent for Bloc Quebecois supporters. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters believed sanctions on Israel would be reasonable.

Levels of acceptance for the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel was even higher with fully 78 per cent of those with an opinion stating they believe the Palestinians' call for a boycott is "reasonable." Again, Conservative supporters expressed radically different views from respondents supporting other parties: 51 per cent rejected a boycott. Supporters of other parties who were receptive to the Palestinian call for a boycott ranged from 88 per cent for Liberal supporters to 94 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois.

Flashback to February 2016, when Parliament adopted a Conservative motion (by a vote of 229-51) condemning Canadian individuals and organizations who promote the Palestinian call for a boycott.  That shameful assault on freedom of expression was supported by the Trudeau government. Only the NDP and Bloc opposed it.

When asked if they supported the passing of this resolution a majority of respondents expressing an opinion -- 53 per cent -- said "no" while half that that number, 26 per cent, said "yes." Only 20  per cent of Liberal supporters supported the resolution while 55 per cent disagreed with it.

Most Canadians still have little idea of just how sycophantic the Trudeau Liberals are when it comes to support the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly when it comes to UN votes on Palestinian rights and Israel's violations of international law.

The Trudeau government has cemented Canada's reputation as an embarrassing outlier when it comes to UN votes on Israel. Since October, 2015 when it came to power, the Liberal government has voted against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel on over 25 occasions. In fact, it has never voted in favour of a UN resolution that is critical of Israel. Which illustrious democracies does Canada find itself allied with in these votes? Besides Israel and the U.S., its loyal benefactor, our fellow travellers are normally Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Most of these resolutions pass by a vote of 156 or 158 to six or eight (with our EU allies voting for or abstaining).

Some of the resolutions Canada actively opposed should shock Canadians. The Trudeau government opposed a UN resolution that reaffirmed "[t]he importance of Israel's accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT]." Another resolution, supporting "The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination," was opposed by the Liberals as was a resolution that almost precisely reiterates the government's official policy -- that "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" are an obstacle to peace.  

Last December the UN Security Council voted unanimously (with the U.S. abstaining) to declare that Israeli settlements on territory intended for a Palestinian state were a "flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of … peace" between Israel and Palestine. Canada remained absolutely silent as it was (effectively) when Israel passed its "land grab" law which retroactively legalizes settler homes on private Palestinian land.

What could possibly justify Trudeau's immoral and frankly irrational stance when it comes to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians? In determining its policy towards Israel the Trudeau government has three apparent motivations at play: defending Israel's right to exist, tending to Canada's specific national interests and reflecting Canadian values.

None of these shine any real light on Canada's continued blanket support for the Netanyahu government. It is being increasingly argued by Israel's friends that the trajectory of that country today is in fact the biggest threat to Israel's existence: a one-party state that can be Jewish or democratic, but not both. Canada on its own has no compelling "national interests" in the Middle East -- except as a yes man for the U.S. empire.

And lastly, Trudeau's inexplicable stance is overwhelmingly at odds with Canadian values. Not only do large majorities see Israel in a negative light, they reject by 91 per cent the notion that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic as implied in the Commons resolution. Flying in the face of Trudeau's cowardly denunciation of BDS supporters are 75 per cent of his own party supporters who are open to sanctions and 88 per cent who say the same of boycotts.

Justin Trudeau has a lot of explaining to do.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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Israel lobbyIsrael-Palestine Conflictpublic opinionCanada-IsraelTrudeau governmentBDS campaignMurray DobbinMarch 2, 2017Canadians at odds with their government on IsraelPro-Israeli government policy is built on a foundation of untested assumptions about Canadian attitudes. A new EKOS poll reveals this to be convenient but quite false.Trudeau's pro-Israel stance offside with Canadians -- and hampers bid for UN seatWhile Trudeau's persona of a progressive internationalist has won him kudos at home and abroad, his staunch support for Israel at the UN has left Canada significantly offside with public opinion.Liberals' shameful BDS stand gives carte blanche to IsraelJustin Trudeau and his government could not be more mistaken if they believe they are doing Israel a favour by supporting the repugnant Conservative anti-BDS resolution.

Seeking justice for Nadine Machiskinic

1 March 2017 - 10:05am
Scott NeighMarch 1, 2017Talking Radical RadioFeminismIndigenous Rights

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Delores Stevenson. Her niece, Nadine Machiskinic, died on January 10, 2015. Since that day, Stevenson and other members of the family have been pushing for a proper investigation and for some kind of justice -- in the last year, with the formal support of a coalition of groups and individuals called Justice for Nadine.

When Nadine was found unconscious in the laundry room of a hotel in Regina, Saskatchewan, hotel staff did not notify the police. When Nadine died in hospital a couple of hours later, still nobody notified the police. It was only 60 hours after she was originally found that someone -- a coroner -- decided that the death under mysterious circumstances of an Indigenous woman who had experienced physical injury warranted police attention.

While the investigation that began at that point produced an official conclusion that Nadine's death involved no foul play, the family and many in the community are highly skeptical of this conclusion. Her death was caused by falling 10 stories down a laundry chute, but how she got into the laundry chute to begin with has never been adequately explained. Nor have the details of who she had been with on the 10th floor, or what role they might have played in her death. The investigation was marked by delays, errors, and contradictions, and left the family with an overarching sense that authorities were not taking it seriously.

Though Delores Stevenson is Nadine's aunt, they were close in age and had a relationship more like sisters. During the active investigation, she persistently sought answers from the police and the coroner, and because of their reluctance to provide answers she frequently had little choice but to take her questions to the media. Though she still does not have all of the answers that she wants, and certainly has not found the justice that Nadine deserves, the persistence of Stevenson and of Justice for Nadine, and their hard work to keep the case in the public eye through events and media work, have definitely had an impact. Their persistence played a role in unearthing the fact that toxicology samples were not sent for analysis until many months after they should have been, for instance, and the fact that two very contradictory autopsy reports were issued. Already the case has resulted in a provincial review of the coroner's office in Saskatchewan, and Nadine's death will be subject to a formal coroner's inquest in March. Currently, Stevenson and Justice for Nadine are raising money with the crowdfunding site GoFundMe so that the family can be represented by a lawyer at the inquest.

Stevenson talks with me about Nadine, about the case, about the broader issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and about the hard work of trying to find some justice for Nadine.

For more information about the case and about Justice for Nadine, go here. To help the family hire a lawyer for the coroner's inquest, go here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image that was modified for use in this post was taken from the Justice for Nadine Facebook page and is used with permission.

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Louis Theroux and John Dower on Scientology, religion, absurdity, skepticism and belief

1 March 2017 - 10:03am
Face2FaceMarch 1, 2017face2faceArts & Culture

Louis, John and Face2Face host David Peck talk about their recent film, My Scientology Movie, a satirical film -- quite the absurd study in religion, Scientology, the human condition, skepticism and belief.




It’s an absurd truth about the Church of Scientology that one of the world’s most secretive organizations will step angrily out into public view when provoked.

This reactiveness is at the core of My Scientology Movie, the cheeky, acclaimed "reverse-investigative" documentary starring British broadcaster/journalist Louis Theroux and directed by John Dower.

With the world awash in "exposes" of the neo-religion created by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard -- and total denials by the Church itself -- My Scientology Movie uses reverse psychology to create a picture of the organization inadvertently painted by its own followers.

It starts with a not-unexpected refusal by the Church to cooperate with a documentary. It continues from there with a very public casting exercise by the filmmakers and former Scientology Marty Rathbun, for actors to play real-life figures like church leader David Miscavige and the church’s most famous follower Tom Cruise.

They then let gossip and paranoia do the rest, attracting the attention of Scientology’s lawyers, threats from church officials, harassment from "squirrel-busters" meeting them at random locations (at least one such incident went viral online) and phony "documentary crews" that followed Theroux, Dower and Rathbun around.

The result is a documentary that doubles down on the story of Scientology. It provides details of its dark side -- including the infamous California "Gold Base" facility for wayward Church officials (visited in the movie) and a punishment area called The Hole. And it renders those revelations more plausible by the actual strange and aberrant behaviour of followers.

"They behaved in ways that were so clearly pathological," Theroux says of the counter-tactics he recorded. "You would expect them to understand that other people would see this behaviour and conclude that this is a religion of lunatics."

"This has always been a Holy Grail project to me," he says. "I'm attracted to stories of people doing profoundly unusual things for explainable human reasons. Normally, I am invited into the worlds I visit. I had to make the decision to make this one anyway, and to lure them out."

"At the heart of it, this is a story about religious fundamentalism, which is a phenomenon that is front and centre in our time."


Louis Theroux is a British-American documentary filmmaker, and broadcaster. He is best known for his documentary series, including Louis Theroux's Weird WeekendsWhen Louis Met..., and his BBC Two specials. His career started in journalism and bears influences of notable writers in his family, such as his father Paul Theroux and brother Marcel. He works with the BBC producing his documentaries and television series. He has received two British Academy Television Awards and a Royal Television Society Television Award for his work.

John Dower is one of the Britain's leading documentary directors. His featureThriller in Manila was in competition at Sundance, BAFTA and EMMY nominated, and won a Grierson and a Peabody Award. Bradley Wiggins – A Year In Yellow was also BAFTA nominated in the best director category. As well as his sporting films he has a keen eye for comedy. His music documentary Live Forever was described by The Guardian as, "Sublime … finds that the truth is stranger and funnier than the myths" and his latest theatrical feature My Scientology Movie praised by The Telegraph as "a giddy, Pythonesque delight," with Variety calling it "riotously funny."

For more information about my podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit my site here.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

Image: Louis Theroux/BBC Films

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Facebook's track record makes its starry-eyed manifesto hard to swallow

1 March 2017 - 9:50am
Civil Liberties WatchMedia MattersTechnology

In a recent 7,500-word manifesto called "Building Global Community," Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, argued that his social network needs to put on its big boy pants and adult up. Well, those aren't his exact words, but that's how I read them. He conceded that Facebook has been a social platform for staying in touch with friends and family, sharing inspirational posters and pet pics -- or inspirational posters featuring pet pics, and hanging out with other folks around the world who enjoy collecting vintage milk bottles as much as you do. Oh, and for spreading a clusterhump of the fake news that tossed a sack of wacky wrenches into a recent election.

Again, not his exact words.

But, he continued, it is time for Facebook to eschew the current zeitgeist of nationalism, and become a tool for uniting global communities in order to provide humane responses to terrorism, climate change and pandemics. And, spread prosperity, freedom, peace and understanding. It's a vision of Facebook that is half David Suzuki, half Coke commercial.

Zuckerberg's solution is to turn Facebook into a "social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for us all." In order to do that, he argues, his social network needs to support safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive communities.

It would be easy to dismiss Zuckerberg's missive as a privileged Silcon Valley billionaire's kumbaya moment, which is exactly what I'm going to do.

Facebook's relationship with its audience, and that audience's privacy, has been both complicated and straightforward. Complicated for users who want to guard that privacy as wave after wave of buried and default privacy settings have thwarted them. Straightforward for Facebook which garners massive revenues from selling users' personal details and browsing behaviours to the highest bidders.

So, for Zuckerberg to now state that Facebook should become an open, accessible and robust online chassis on which to build a global Peace Corps is a little rich. Part of the problem with Zuckerberg's view is that we already have an open, accessible and robust online chassis for social change. It's called the World Wide Web.

Facebook has already tried this "open infrastructure" play in India. There is trumpeted Free Basics, an Internet service it would roll out at no cost to rural labourers. Of course the limited web access of the service was dominated by Facebook and the offering not only flew in the face of the web's open nature, it was soundly rejected by its presumed audience and shut down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

So far Facebook has shown itself to be cavalier with privacy and disingenuous about the offerings it wants to make free to an audience that, this time to use Zuckerberg's words, needed something that was "safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive."

Finally, Facebook's Janus-like relationship with its audience is nothing compared to the two-faced partnership it has with the media. I counted 73 words in the whole piece that touch on the role of traditional media. And, most of that is about how Facebook needs to help out journalism:

"There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable -- from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on."

One can only assume that the "formats" are ones that work on Facebook. And, while it is true that Facebook has launched The Facebook Journalism Project, there is no real mention of what resources the social network will throw at the initiative and how much it will benefit Facebook rather than news outlets.

And, let's be clear: so far the news media has gotten the short end of the stick when it's gotten in bed with Facebook. In a desperate attempt to garner audience, many newspapers have ceded their platforms to the social network. As Steven Waldman points out in his recent New York Times opinion piece, the news has been all good for Facebook. In 2015, $36 billion of $59 billion digital ad dollars spent went to Facebook and Google.

And, as Waldman suggests, if Facebook really wanted to help out journalism, it could, along with Google, Apple and Verison, cough up some serious billions to fund local and investigative journalism.

Instead, Zuckerberg argues that AI and Facebook users themselves can work to winnow news and fine-tune what they as individuals or members of a community want to see.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Listen to an audio version of this column, delivered by the author, here.

Image: Esther Vargas/flickr

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facebookMark Zuckerbergonline privacyOpen InternetFake Newsonline journalismWayne MacPhailMarch 1, 2017Facebook and the news publishers who flirt with heartbreak We've come to a pretty pass when publishers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are thinking about getting hitched to that lyin', cheatin', two-timing heart, Facebook.Fake news is foolish but the consequences are realWhen people of any political stripe let dogma defeat data and outrage quell common sense, there are consequences.We still need journalism to make sense of our worldAs a recent CBC Nova Scotia news investigation on campaign financing shows, we still need journalism -- especially publicly funded, public interest journalism.

Is your Internet data ending up in the NSA's hands?

1 March 2017 - 9:12am
Civil Liberties WatchTechnology

How many websites have you visited today? What about over the past week? How many emails have you sent? How many times have you logged onto Facebook? How often have you used Slack, Skype, or other instant messaging services?

If you're anything like me, you probably won't be able to answer these questions. Even as I write this piece, I have 16 tabs open in my browser, I'm logged into Facebook, and my office's instant messaging service is chirping away at me.

Fact is, the Internet has become such an interwoven part of my daily routine that it's impossible for me to keep track of how many websites I visit or emails I send in any given day. One of the best things about the Internet is that "it just works" -- that's why so few of us give any thought to what's actually happening to our data when we hit "send" on an email, click on a link, or tap "reply" to an instant message.

Unfortunately, what's actually happening to our data on its journey around the Internet has deeply concerning privacy implications for all of us. Over the years, spy agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) have built incredibly powerful surveillance systems capable of collecting unimaginable quantities of our private communications data -- including emails, video and voice chats, photos, videos, stored data, and social networking details -- and analyzing it for anything supposedly "suspicious."

Although we like to think of the Internet as a "cloud," most of it relies on Internet Exchanges -- buildings that connect the most important Internet cables together. Although these Internet Exchanges ensure that our data reliably makes it from point A to point B, their physical nature makes us far more vulnerable to surveillance.

The NSA has taken advantage of this by installing listening posts -- or "splitter rooms" -- in key U.S. cities where Internet Exchanges are located. When your data travels through one of these Internet Exchanges it is almost certainly subject to being intercepted by the NSA, and stored at the main NSA Data Center in Utah. Once outside Canada, your data is treated by the NSA as foreign and loses Canadian legal and constitutional protections -- representing a major loss of privacy.

This threat has existed for years, but is even more concerning under the Trump administration, given his public statements about expanding surveillance, meaning the range of potential targets and "suspicious" behaviours is likely to be even greater than before.

What's even more worrying is that this surveillance is not restricted to when you visit a U.S. website, or send an email to someone south of the border. Led by Professor Andrew Clement, a team of experts at the University of Toronto and York University have been researching this extensively as part of the IXmaps project. They have concluded that significant amounts -- at least 25 per cent -- of domestic Canada-to-Canada data travels via the United States where it is subject to NSA surveillance.

This phenomenon is known as "boomerang routing": for example, an email sent from Vancouver to Toronto may "boomerang" via Chicago. Even an email sent from one part of Vancouver to another may travel via the U.S. -- largely as a result of years of monopolistic practices by major Canadian telecoms, poor regulatory oversight, and underinvestment in Canada's domestic Internet infrastructure and long-haul backbone capacity.

At OpenMedia, we've worked with IXmaps researchers on a new educational platform to raise awareness of these issues, in a project made possible by the financial support of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Our platform includes an informational video, a series of infographics, and a detailed FAQ to ensure you can learn more about where your data travels, and what happens to it on its journey. We even include some pointers to tools that anyone can use to better safeguard their privacy online. Check it out at OpenMedia.org/en/IXmaps

David Christopher is the communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open Internet.

Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr

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online privacyinternet surveillanceNational Surveillance Agencyinternet rightsDigital Freedom UpdateDavid ChristopherDigital Freedom UpdateMarch 1, 2017Trump's election should prompt Canada to rethink its complicity with U.S. mass surveillanceWith Donald Trump's ascension to power imminent, Canada cannot afford to continue allowing government agencies to routinely hand over our private information to the U.S. government.China's dystopian 'social credit' surveillance system could move to CanadaChina's "Social Credit System" pilot project aggregates a wide variety of data to rate citizens as desirable or undesirable. Canada is not exempt from this dystopian future.Bill C-51: Canadians won't accept tinkering at the marginsOur own Victoria Henry argues that Canadians deserve better than Bill C-51 -- we deserve our privacy back.

How effective are Sanctuary City motions?

1 March 2017 - 8:52am
March 1, 2017Re-evaluating Sanctuary CitiesInterviews with Jaggi Singh and Nigel Bariffe take a deeper look at the effectiveness of Sanctuary City motions and how they can be fixed.

Alberta's NDP tends not to make a game of thrones, so tomorrow's speech may actually give us useful information!

1 March 2017 - 12:54am
David J. ClimenhagaMarch 1, 2017ElectionsPolitics in Canada

I don't know what will be in tomorrow's throne speech, a document that's supposed to set out a parliamentary government’s agenda for the next session of the Legislature, but I imagine it will contain a hint or two about the NDP's likely strategy for re-election in 2019, or whenever the next provincial general election takes place.

When Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell takes her modestly throne-like seat in the Legislature and reads the speech, will the government of Premier Rachel Notley opt for Door No. 1 and settle into a cautious reflection of Tory governments past? Such an approach would harken back to the days of Peter Lougheed and perhaps even those of Ed Stelmach, when Alberta's Progressive Conservatives truly were themselves the pragmatic, big-tent party Notley's NDP now evidently aspires to be.

To do this could risk alienating some of the NDP's core supporters, whose enthusiasm will certainly be needed if the government is to be re-elected.

Will they open Door No. 2 and continue with the modest but still significant agenda they brought from their unexpectedly successful platform for the 2015 general election, significant parts of which have already been implemented -- for example, campaign finance reform and a streamlining of the expensive and bloated Agencies, Boards and Commissions Sector left after nearly 44 years of dynastic PC rule?

This risks raising the already nearly hysterical pitch of Alberta right's attacks on Notley's government, perhaps a serious consideration if the opposition's claims are gaining traction with voters.

Or will they say to heck with it, kick open Door No. 3 and try to fix what they can while they can and the devil take the hindmost?

A signal, I think, will be what the government of Premier Notley does with Alberta's antiquated, unfair and in places still unconstitutional labour laws. If labour law reform is on the agenda, but the reforms are modest and cautious, it is likely the government has opted for Door No. 2, which is not a guarantee of re-election, but probably the best way for them to balance the political needs of their committed base and the conservative nature, in the proper sense of that phrase, of Alberta's electorate.

The NDP's first two throne speeches, in 2015 and 2016, have been worthwhile documents, phrased as if they were written by and for grownups. They actually showed the direction in which the government proposed to move.

They were written, in other words, by people with real respect for the traditions of parliamentary democracy, whether or not you agree with the actual policy direction taken to cope with a difficult economy in a resource-dependent jurisdiction.

Alberta throne speeches in the final years of the Tory Dynasty often didn't discuss actual PC legislative agendas because they were part of a policy continuum formulated behind closed doors, far from the prying eyes of annoying members of the public and media. Another reason for this failure was because they were mainly drafted to counter the increasingly radical and highly ideological agenda of the Wildrose Party by appearing to advocate the same ideas.

So PC throne speeches tended to be driven by talking points drafted mainly to cancel positions and strategies that had proved effective for the Wildrosers. This was a strategic mistake, as it turned out, when combined with the only partly successful effort to absorb the Wildrose caucus into the PCs in late 2014 and the foolish decision by then premier Jim Prentice early the next year to call an election before the electorate desired.

A strong case can be made that the 2015 election result showed the genuinely conservative nature of Alberta voters -- who opted to choose the political course most likely to conserve the best things built in Alberta over the years since Lougheed's first PC government was elected in 1971.

Unlike the two NDP throne speeches, those of the PCs in recent years were less likely to deliver on their key promises.

In bad times (which always seemed to come as a complete surprise to the government) they promised no new taxes and fiscal responsibility. In all times, they promised to get Alberta off the resource price rollercoaster and start putting money in the bank -- without offering many thoughts about how this was going to be achieved. Accordingly, it never was when the budget speech rolled around.

The balanced budgets they promised turned out always to be just over the horizon. The stable, predictable funding they promised for health care, education and municipalities never seemed to be possible just then.

Casting our minds farther back, throne speeches and budget speeches alike in the era of premier Ralph Klein always sounded as if they had been written by a clever eight-year-old for a class project at a private school of middling quality. In them, the very best province in the whole wide world usually seemed to require a dose of painful austerity.

Getting Alberta off the resource roller coaster is no easy thing to do, but at least the NDP has tried to implement real policies directed toward that goal. Whether that is a good thing, or, as the opposition asserts, a betrayal bordering on insanity, will be up to voters to decide.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Alberta politicsthrone speechAlberta NDPRachel NotleyParliamentary TraditionRalph KleinEd StelmachPeter LougheedWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative Partylabour lawAgencies Boards and Commissions SectorAB

What does the NDP have to offer Canadians?

28 February 2017 - 9:50am
NDPPolitics in Canada

In 1991, Michael Oliver, the first New Democratic Party president, wrote an essay with McGill philosopher Charles Taylor that began: "How do you mix two nations and democratic socialism in a federal state?"

For Oliver and Taylor, the need to supplant the Liberal and Conservative approaches to Canadian politics was what gave rise to the party. Unhappily, ensuring the autonomy of Quebec and remaking the economy were questions left unanswered 30 years after its creation, along with questions about the place of Indigenous peoples and the significance of multiculturalism.

As the curtain goes up for the 2017 NDP leadership contest, the party needs to bring a distinct approach to what matters to Canadians. It would do well to draw on the traditions of social democracy and democratic socialism mentioned in the preamble to the party constitution, and take inspiration from the ideas of Oliver and Taylor.

Today many Canadians are hurting. Years of full-bore capitalism since the adoption of the free trade agreement with the U.S. have produced growing inequalities.

A generation of debt-burdened young Canadians are mired in precarious work, unable to think of buying a house, founding a family, or enjoying a quality of life that was supposed to be accessible to all.

Continental integration with the United States was never a good idea.

Why would the Canadian Parliament limit its own power and place the destiny of the country it was elected to serve into the hands of a foreign government?

With an unspeakable political disaster occurring south of the border, the idea of relying on the U.S. government to provide a stable environment for Canadian prosperity looks even worse than in the mid-1980s when Brian Mulroney divided Canadians over the issue.

Yet, preserving a free trade environment with the United States remains Canada's economic strategy.

Surely NDP leadership candidates can come up with something better, more confidence-building, more worthy of attention and government action than continental monopoly capitalism.

Michael Oliver was the president of Carleton University when in 1980 he founded and became the first president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (disclosure: I became the third, in 1987).

The NDP needs to take seriously the perspectives developed by the CCPA on trade, investment, federal fiscal policy and taxation.

The incredible NDP "balance-the-budget" gaffe of the 2015 election (the moment I knew we would win, said Trudeau adviser G.M. Butts) would never have occurred if the campaign team had briefed themselves on federal budget basics.

Provincial governments or cities do not have currency-issuing central banks and (exclusive of needed public investment) pay attention to maintaining balanced operating budgets.

Following a budget deficit, when the federal government borrows and adds to the national debt, it adds to the stock of marketable securities, creating wealth for pension funds and other investors. The central bank holds these securities at no cost to the government.

Federal government debt is an asset for those who hold it. Reach into your purse or billfold and pull out a $5 bill. What you have in your hand is government debt. When federal debt is reduced, money and wealth disappear.

Private debt creators, a.k.a. banks, do not want government debt displacing their money-making machines so they oppose deficit spending. Those machines are now stripping students of their capacity to determine their future.

The NDP leadership candidates need to be on the side of the students not of the bankers.

The kind of income redistribution needed to reduce fundamental inequalities in Canada requires progressive income taxation. Canada had a system with 10 tax thresholds until the Mulroney Conservatives reduced it to three, under the erroneous guise of tax "simplification."

Canada's employment insurance scheme needs to become a comprehensive minimum income scheme, financed by progressive corporate and personal taxes. As it now exists, EI is mainly a regressive tax. Precarious workers draw no benefits yet must pay into the scheme anyway.

Three times a federal NDP candidate, Charles Taylor, a highly decorated philosopher has written eloquently on the issues that animate Quebec politics.

In the 2015 election, despite having a Quebec-based leader, the party lost its Quebec compass. It went from 59 seats to 16, when the Conservatives made wearing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies an issue. As a result, the Liberals (39 seats) the Bloc (10 seats) and the Conservatives (12 seats) rebounded.

In the 2017 leadership contest, the winner must be someone at ease with the changing terrain of Quebec politics. Being bilingual is necessary -- but not sufficient. The NDP leader needs to be bicultural as well.

Justin Trudeau has been the main focus by the NDP in Parliament. The partisan preoccupations with Trudeau taking a private helicopter ride or spending excessively on PMO expenses has not diminished his appeal.

Despite questionable leadership, the prime minister is still running 10 points ahead of his party in public opinion polls.

Signs do point to a slide in Liberal fortunes, even with Trudeau as leader. A minority government is a likely outcome in 2019.

Should the next NDP leader capture the public imagination, there is no reason why, at a minimum, the party could not hold the balance of power and bring needed changes to Canadians. The upcoming leadership race matters.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: steve/flickr

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NDP leadership2017 ndp leadershipeconomic inequalitysocial democracydemocratic socialismbudget deficitDuncan CameronFebruary 28, 2017Spring political follies: Three Canadian leadership races In Canadian politics a winning candidate is currently defined as one that can take on Justin Trudeau and make him look weak. Runners in three leadership races will have to measure up.NDP leadership candidates will face big challenges in 2017Soon a number of aspirants will officially announce their candidacies for the NDP leadership. They will face an uphill battle to garner public attention and render their party a viable alternative.As burned bridges pile up, Trudeau's re-election may already be out of reachTrudeau's about-face on electoral reform and massive deficits will likely cost him the soft conservative and left vote that delivered a majority in 2015.

'We have never ceded our lands': B.C.'s interior First Nations and Kinder Morgan

27 February 2017 - 11:29pm
February 28, 2017'We have never ceded our lands': First Nations in B.C.'s interior weigh impacts of Kinder Morgan pipelineAcross B.C.'s interior, First Nations communities are deciding whether or not they will support Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline project through mutual benefits agreements.

Asylum seekers in Canada hounded by politics from all sides

26 February 2017 - 10:18pm
February 26, 2017Asylum seekers at Canada's border, the push and the pull As asylum seekers from Somalia and elsewhere cross the Manitoba and Quebec borders this winter, their fates are dictated by U.S. and Canadian policy alike.

Opposition parties strangely quiet as Alberta Finance Minister stops the ABC Sector gravy train

26 February 2017 - 1:42am
David J. ClimenhagaFebruary 26, 2017Politics in Canada

Being a conservative in opposition apparently turns what your Mama taught you on its head: If you can't say anything bad, don't say anything at all!

That would be one explanation for the spooky silence from Alberta's Wildrose Opposition and the usual suspects on the right about Finance Minister Joe Ceci's announcement Friday he was pulling the plug on millions in pay and perks for executives at 23 Alberta agencies, boards and commissions -- part of the so-called ABC Sector.

You'd think this would have pleased the opposition. After all, just three weeks ago they were screaming that the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley must freeze the pay of front-line nurses, health care workers, teachers and civil servants who will be negotiating new collective agreements this year.

Back then, in an official statement, the Wildrose Party called a mediator's recommendation of raises ranging for 29 cents to 88 cents an hour for 14,000 health care aides and licensed practical nurses represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees "a slap in the face to struggling Albertans."

Some of those health care workers are currently being paid less than $20 an hour. Freezing their salaries for 2016 as the Wildrosers demanded would have saved the provincial treasury about $8 million.

By contrast, on Friday, the cuts made to the sometimes outrageous pay and perks of only about 270 ABC Sector executives -- a hangover from the days when the ABCs served in part as a lush pasture for old Tory warhorses -- will save taxpayers roughly double that.

Now, it would be entirely consistent for the Opposition to say, "good step, but not far enough." Or even, "it was about time they stopped the gravy train!" Instead? Pretty much crickets.

There was nary a quote from the PCs (who are responsible for most of the executive pay rates to which Ceci took his axe), the Wildrosers (who are after all the Official Opposition) or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Canada's self-described and routinely quoted tax watchdog) in any mainstream media report I noticed.

In fact, the only mention of the Progressive Conservatives in any of the media coverage seemed to be Ceci’s mild comment that "for far too long, the previous government allowed CEO salaries to balloon beyond reasonable levels at our agencies, boards and commissions despite recommendations by the Auditor General to rein them in."

"Instead, they sat by while some executives got big raises," Ceci observed during his news conference. "I’m here to say that those days of standing by are over."

As for the Opposition, "Wildrose voiced no objections," was all an official of that party told me, a kind of backhanded approval in itself. The PCs appear to have been completely silent.

The CTF did better. "This is a good baby step," CTF Alberta spokesperson Paige MacPherson responded to my query. "If the government is willing to address compensation to reduce spending, it makes sense to start at the top. … At the same time, Minister Ceci would not commit to pushing for wage freezes in labour negotiations." That said, it sure didn't sound like they were working the phones to the media, which will always take a call from the CTF.

Regardless, although MacPherson is right when she says the sum is small in the great scheme of things, the symbolism is powerful -- and related, it is said here, to the mysterious unwillingness of the so-called conservative Opposition to give the NDP credit for doing something right.

Indeed, I imagine there are some in the Opposition who would have liked things left just as they were in the hope conservatives some day return to government and Alberta can get back to being run the way the PCs did for nearly 44 years.

For his part, Ceci subtly demonstrated that taxpayers get value for the money they spend on the civil service compared to the private sector and corporatized groups like some Tory-built ABCs.

By bringing ABC executive salaries into line with much lower paid top civil servants with similar responsibilities, the NDP has also struck a blow against the old Tory spoils system in which ordinary taxpayers footed the bill for a comfortable semi-retirement for superannuated Conservative loyalists.

This is not to say, of course, that all ABC executives were Tory hacks, or didn't do important work. But even where their work was important, and they did it well, Ceci has struck a blow against the pervasive and self-serving myth on the right that huge, anti-social salaries must be paid to executives in public service in order to get the best people.

"We're not concerned about that," Ceci said in response to a predictable question from a reporter during Friday's news conference. Salaries have been benchmarked with those of people holding similar jobs in other governments and organizations, he noted, and "the benchmarks show they’re being fairly compensated relative to people in similar positions."

Certainly, about half the impacted ABC executives will see cuts to their base pay -- although only after a two-year transition period -- and a few will lose literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual pay if they stick around.

Alberta Workers Compensation Board CEO Guy Kerr will see his pay shrink from almost $900,000 a year to just under $400,000. Alberta Energy Regulator CEO Jim Ellis's pay will fall from more than $720,000 a year to about $400,000.

As for the taxpayer bankrolled golf club memberships, housing allowances, "retention bonuses," "market modifiers" and "performance bonuses" -- they'll all be gone. Severance pay will be capped at one year.

Ceci was excruciatingly polite about this. He effusively praised the work done by the impacted executives. He said their reaction to his news was "respectful, understanding, appreciative.”

The government's extensive review of the ABC Sector continues. In the first phase last year, 26 agencies were amalgamated or eliminated. There are more than 300 ABCs in all.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Alberta politicsRachel NotleyWildrose PartyAlberta NDPProgressive Conservative PartyCanadian Taxpayers FederationAlberta Workers Compensation BoardJim EllisAlberta Energy RegulatorAlberta Union of Provincial Employees

Asylum seekers at Canada's border, the push and the pull

25 February 2017 - 6:41pm
Dennis GruendingFebruary 25, 2017

Television news has recently provided images of asylum seekers walking across frigid Canadian border crossings in Manitoba and Quebec. Incredibly, many of the people trudging through the snow are from African countries, such as Somalia and Sudan. Their journey most likely began with a flight from Africa to Brazil, followed by a dangerous ground passage through several South and Central American countries, as well as Mexico and -- finally -- the U.S. And they had to have been desperate for safety to risk their lives on such a perilous voyage.

Trump closes the border 

Most of the newcomers planned to claim asylum in the U.S. But U.S. President Donald Trump issued an order in late January, closing the border to anyone from seven predominantly Muslim countries. He also placed all refugee admissions on hold until at least the end of May. As a result, he has been challenged in American courts -- the outcome of which remains unclear. More recently, the U.S. administration instructed police officers, along with immigration and customs officers, to round up people who Trump calls "illegals" and deport them. The order allows this to be done without hearings or due process.

Push and pull

That’s the push for desperate people who are arriving in Canada. The pull is our emerging reputation as a country friendly to asylum seekers. After the U.S. refugee ban was announced in January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” After all, Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was born in Somalia and was once a refugee himselfm, a fact that isn't lost on asylum seekers.

Canada welcomed 46,000 refugees in 2015. The U.S., with a population 10 times as large, accepted 85,000. For the year 2017, Ottawa has lowered its target to 25,000 and Minister Hussen says that number remains, at least for now. That comes as a disappointment to many, community-based groups who want to help with refugee sponsorship.

To provide some perspective, the United Nations says there are 65 million displaced people in the world.  About 40 million who have been forced to flee their homes remain internally displaced within their own countries. Another 21 million have been designated by the UN as refugees and await resettlement or a chance to go home. A final three million are asylum seekers around the world. Given those numbers, Canada’s promise to resettle 25,000 refugees, while commendable, is decidedly modest given the need.

The kindness of strangers

I’ve been struck by the civility with which the newcomers have been treated by police officers and border officials. Take, for example, a guard on Manitoba’s Canadian-American border, who helped asylum seekers through the deep snow. "They are human beings too," he told a television reporter. People in the small border towns of Emerson, Man. and Hemmingford, Que. have been friendly, too, although a local official in Emerson warned that the town isn’t equipped to handle hundreds of new arrivals. In contrast, another television interviewee said that while he’s in favour of "legal immigration," he has no sympathy for the people arriving at remote border crossings. "Too bad, so sad," he said, cynically.

Nevertheless, people in danger of persecution in their home countries are not illegals. They deserve a hearing, and if they’re indeed refugees, international law says that they must be protected.

Compassionate politics

We must begin to think in different ways about people forced from their homes by wars, violence and  -- increasingly -- climate change. If we cannot build more compassionate politics and populations, then we’re in for a Hobbesian scenario: increasingly authoritarian governments claiming to protect us from what they see as "the hordes at the gate."

This piece appeared with the United Church Observer on February 23, 2017.  

Asylum seekers CanadaRefugees CanadaAhmed Hussen